Variations on a theme…..

April 21, 2012 § 2 Comments

Basalt columns Jökulsárgljúfur gorge

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basalt columns at Svartifoss, Skaftafell National Park

It was the classic time of Johann Wolfgang Goethe and the pros and cons, the neptunists with their marine basalt formation genesis and the plutonists with their fire theory faught a severe scientific battle about this issue. The clash between the different schools centred around a small basalt hill in Western Bohemia called Kammerbühl (today : Komorní hurka) and it was Goethe himself, who visited this hill eleven times to bring light into the darkness. At last the great poet himself, which was a great nature scientist too, ordered an adit to be driven into the hill at his own cost and this was done. The adit finally found the volcanic root below the Kammerbühl hill and solved once and for all the scientific controversity : Basalt is a volcanic rock type…

Basalt columns form as sort of dessication cracks pretty much like drying mud cracks. The main difference is the temperature : basalt is cooling down quite rapidly and by doing so it starts shrinking. Of course this shrinking process starts at the surface, which is either air or more likely another, cool rock. And from that contact the shrinking process slowly develops into the depth, forming longer and longer columns. These can grow to many meter length, depending on the thickness of the original basalt lava flow.

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basalt_columns Staffa Geology

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The fantastic precision of Nature’s work in building up the basaltic columns on Staffa is due to the steady cooling of flows of lava as they came into contact with a colder bedrock and were exposed to the even more chilling effects of the weather of northern Scotland on the outer surfaces. By some fluke of contraction on cooling the result is perfect, mainly hexagonal, columns. Curves in the columns were caused by the shape of the underlying rock over which the lava flowed.

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Basalt columns along the Gardner River

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basalt columns, Carrickfergus, United Kingdom

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Basalt columns Spain

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Fingal’s Cave is located on the uninhabited rock island of Staffa, off the West coast of Scotland. This fascinating cave is formed from hexagon shaped basalt columns. The basalt formed into hexagonal columns when a lava flow cooled in the ocean. The lava flow that created Fingal’s Cave also created the amazing Giant’s Causeway rock formation in Scotland. In Gaelic, Fingal’s Cave is known as Uamh-Binn, meaning “cave of melody”, due to the lovely sounds made by echos of waves crashing inside.

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Aldeyjarfoss waterfall basalt columns

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*Smith Rock Basalt Columns

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Devils Postpile

“Located in Ansel Adams Wilderness, this national monument was established in 1911 to preserve the geological formation known as Devils Postpile, as well as the magnificent Rainbow Falls. Like many sites in the Sierras, the postpile exhibits a history of assault by the transforming forces of fire and ice.

The postpile is a remarkable basalt column formation about sixty feet high sitting at an elevation of 7,600 feet. The columns formed when basaltic lava erupted in the valley of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River about 100,000 years ago. The valley was filled with lava about 400 feet thick, which cooled at a uniform rate from both the top and bottom. As the lava cooled, it shrank and then cracked into these geometric shapes. The columns were exposed 10,000 years ago when a glacier flowed down this river gorge and scooped away one side of the postpile, revealing this splintered cliff face to the world.”


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“You’re a Hard Habit to Break”, Chicago:

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